Turbulence building over the Centre’s refusal to give Special Category Status (SCS) to Andhra Pradesh is now threatening the cohesion of the NDA. On Wednesday, TDP chief and Andhra Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, announced that his party was withdrawing its two ministers from the Narendra Modi government since it found the Centre’s response to Andhra’s request “very hurtful and insulting”.
The SCS demand is a politically-sensitive issue that has its roots in the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh in 2014. In lieu of accepting the bifurcation plan and to compensate for revenue losses, primarily due to Hyderabad becoming the capital of the new state, Telangana, Andhra was promised SCS. Until then, only Jammu and Kashmir, states in the Northeast and the Himalayan region had been accorded SCS: Special status would ensure that 90 per cent of central funds for state projects routed through the National Development Council under the Planning Commission was given as grants.
Two of the Naidu government’s showpiece projects, the new capital city of Amaravati and the Polavaram multi-purpose hydro-electric project, were to be built with central funds. However, the 14th Finance Commission recommended that the category be removed in 2015, which the Centre accepted. The Centre has promised to compensate Andhra through other instruments, but the state political leadership’s focus on SCS has been projected as a matter of regional pride.
Any compromise by the government, therefore, is likely to be painted as capitulation by the Opposition. The Centre may have erred in not recognising how much the political leadership in Andhra was invested in SCS and allowing its ministers to portray the demand as emotional and sentimental.
The disquiet in the TDP should also serve as a warning bell to the BJP. The Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and smaller parties in Bihar have for long been complaining that the BJP ignores and relegates its allies. Naidu’s charge that he could not get an appointment with the PM to discuss SCS shows the NDA’s coalition management in poor light. The estrangement of important allies as the government enters the last lap of its term must worry the BJP.
This seems to be happening at a time when various opposition groups, worried about the BJP’s aggressive expansion, are abandoning differences to explore tie-ups. The decision of the BSP to support its arch rival, the SP, in the upcoming bypolls in Uttar Pradesh and the alliance between the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Congress in Jharkhand indicate a consolidation of the Opposition space. In this context, the TDP revolt could be an opportunity for the BJP to reflect on its ties with allies.